Louis DeFilippi does not care much about labels like “single dad.” If DeFilippi is a symbol of anything, it is simply that of independent thinking.
Growing up, he was the “white sheep” on his block in Queens, N.Y., the one who went on to earn a doctorate in biochemistry as some kids “were headed toward a career in crime,” he says.
When a real estate agent told him in 1979 that unmarried men didn’t buy houses, his rejoinder: “Meet the new single man.”
“I’ve always taken my own path,” says DeFilippi, 64. “I don’t follow the crowd. I don’t care what the crowd’s doing.”
His maverick spirit flashed again when he became a first-time father seven years ago, The Chicago Tribune first reported.
DeFilippi pursued fatherhood on his own after the devastation of receiving a “Dear John” letter in 2003 from his second wife. She was leaving him and his long desire to become a dad remained unfulfilled.
“I decided to keep my life moving forward,” said DeFilippi, who was raised in a close-knit family with too many cousins to count. “I didn’t want my life to end at that point.”
DeFilippi, a consultant living in Palatine, Ill., sought help from a reproductive endocrinologist who DeFilippi said had never before worked with a single man. With DeFilippi’s sperm and a donor egg, an unrelated gestational surrogate carried the pregnancy, and the next chapter of DeFilippi’s life began in 2006 with the birth of his daughter.
“Having Anna is the best decision I ever made,” DeFilippi says of his now 7-year-old who starts second grade next month. “There is nothing more joyful than when I hear her say the word ‘Daddy.’ Nothing compares with that.”
With his nontraditional route to parenthood, DeFilippi is part of two trends. The number of single-father households grew from less than 300,000 in 1960 to more than 2.6 million in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center, while the number of children born to gestational surrogates rose from 738 in 2004 to 1,593 in 2011, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.
Dr. Charles Coddington, the society’s president-elect, says that in his practice at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., he has not had a single man seek a child through surrogacy. “It’s not very common at all,” he said.
Most of his patients seeking the use of a gestational surrogate are married women who cannot carry a child because of illness, though he has seen same-sex couples and single women as well.
DeFilippi said surrogacy was the only option for him. Adoption would have involved “too much prying” and taken too long, he said. And the chances that a woman he would meet in his late 50s would want to have children, he joked, were “between none and zero.”
“I wanted to have a kid,” he recalled, someone to pass on his traditions to. “I figured this is the time I have to do it. Nobody tells me I can’t do something. I come up with the solution.”
His surrogate, Janene Brickey, welcomed DeFilippi’s involvement during her pregnancy. He often made the eight-hour round-trip drive to attend her doctor’s appointments, and he was in Springfield, Ill., when Anna was born two months early, weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces.
“I held her when she was 90 seconds old,” he said. “It was like, wow, this is it. This is my daughter.”
What was it like becoming a dad when he did?
“Everybody asks me that,” he says. “It was just a natural, smooth continuation of life.”
He seemed like a natural, wondering what the fuss about caring for a newborn was all about. “I had to get up at 2 a.m. to feed her,” he says. “Yeah, so? You get up at 2 a.m. to feed her.”
These days, DeFilippi likens himself to a busy soccer mom, driving his daughter back and forth to summer camp and gymnastics while finding time to work in between. The two have traveled to China and Florida, they visit museums, ride bikes and shop at American Girl.
DeFilippi has made sure Anna knows where she came from and she knows she does not have a mother. That, Anna says, makes her feel “pretty bad.” “But,” she adds quickly, “I’m really happy that I have a daddy,” before giving DeFilippi a hug.
“He’s the best daddy ever,” she says. “He’s the No. 1 daddy.”
DeFilippi and Anna talk to Brickey by phone almost every day, and Anna sometimes spends the weekend with her “Auntie Nene.” “She knows Janene is not her mom,” he said.
While DeFilippi had considered having more children, he donated his remaining embryos to help another family. “Anna is what I wanted,” he said. “Anna is what I got.”
Perhaps the family he will help create will look just like his own.